A small regional library in the Snowy Mountains and local high schools are helping bridge the generation gap, showing older people how to avoid scams and stay safe online.
The grass roots initiative has been so successful the Federal Government is hoping to roll out a national program based on the same concept, prompted by concerns over cyber safety.
Monaro farmer Phil Rumph attended the Digital Seniors workshop at the Bombala library after authorities made it clear he would have to apply online for his next gun licence.
“I went to go get a new shooter’s licence a few weeks ago and I had to nearly beg to get them to send me something in hard copy,” Mr Rumph said.
“There’ll be no hard copy, so there’s only one way to do it [which] is to learn how to do it via the computer, so I thought, ‘Okay that’s telling me something’.”
The workshop is part of a program which started at the Cooma library in December 2017.
At each library, students spend one morning each term helping senior citizens with tech education like sending emails or connecting a printer.
Ruth Allen-Meyer, 91, attended the workshop to learn how to access her voicemail. She said she had tried a formal workshop a few years ago but found it difficult, compared to learning from the students.
“They know it all as far as IT is concerned, and they use it more than other people I think, and so they can teach oldies like me,” Ms Allen-Meyer said.
Snowy Monaro Library Manager Pam Veiss said the program was so popular, there was a waiting list to participate.
Ms Veiss invited the high schools to get involved after seeing how many older residents came to the library asking for help with technology.
“We didn’t have the time, we didn’t have the programs in place to be able to help them on a one-on-one basis, so as a response to the need for people we started the program with the high school,” she said.
Getting online not without hidden dangers
The office of the eSafety Commissioner said it was crucial older Australians were taught how to stay safe online.
Senior manager Paul Clark said older Australians were more likely to fall prey to scams if they were not taught to be tech savvy.
“The more digitally literate that someone is, the less likely that they’ll be caught up in these things (scams) and that’s why programs like these are so important,” Mr Clark said.
He said they needed to be educated about what to look out for online, and things like using public Wi-Fi and scams.
But it is not just about staying safe.
Mr Clark said older Australians who lacked digital literacy were at risk of missing out on more than just the latest trends on Facebook.
“It’s not just about researching things you’re interested in, for a lot of people it’s about shopping, social interaction, but importantly too, it’s about accessing services,” Mr Clark said.
“So how do you find out about where you go to get information or to provide services for someone who’s older?
“The less experience you’ve got with technology, it limits your ability to get that information or resources.”
Benefits for learners and student mentors
The eSafety Commissioner plans to roll out a nationwide program similar to the local workshops in Cooma and Bombala from early next year.
Project manager of the BeConnected Young Mentors program Jill McNaught said there were benefits for the older learners and their student mentors.
“What [students] are saying has been most beneficial to them is the teaching and communication and leadership skills,” Ms McNaught said.
“They’ve found the whole program just fun and interesting, and they really, really value … the difference that they were making in an older person’s life.”
Snowy-Monaro library manager Pam Veiss agreed students were good mentors.
“They’re so patient, they’re so knowledgeable, and every time we have it, all of the people who attend just say, ‘That was fantastic … it’s been so helpful’,” Ms Veiss said.
Back at the Bombala workshop, Mr Rumph said the program was just the start of his digital education.
He said some of his friends were tech savvy or had partners who were.
“But I’m living on my own now, so that kind of brought home to me how … how I needed to step up basically, and this is the first step.”